“I Have Felt Muslim in Mecca. I Have Felt Muslim in Bars.”

mecca hajj

She would always speak to me in English
The way a lion speaks the language of apes in a zoo
The way birds speak the language of wind at flight
The way ships speak the language of waves on sail
The way a gazelle speaks the language of trees in the dark shades of the forest

But when something inside of her broke
When the blood seeped from the hidden chambers of her heart
When she spoke about the way her late grandma caressed her hair when she was just two years old

When her heart ached so much that her voice would tremble
She would speak in Arabic
The way a lion nuzzles against the soft neck of its lioness

The way a bird sings in the early springs to its nest
The way a ship cries at wreck
And the way a gazelle whispers its fawns to sleep on the days where there is no moon to light their night.

[Photography by Haya Hachem. Comic book series: Habibi by Craig Thompson.]

3

The first time I realised I haven’t let go was when I found myself talking to strangers about you.
Spelling your name. Teaching them how to pronounce it. You see, her name was very Arabic. The kind you can only write in a calligraphy, only hear in an Om Kalthoum song, only visualise in black and white, the name of one of Omar Al Sharif’s past lovers. Or the name of a street in downtown Beirut. Vowels too strong to be forgotten.

The second time I realised I wasn’t moving on was when I found myself reading Mahmoud Darwish’s poetry, swaying between the stanzas as I thought of how we first danced and how we first swayed. I thought of – Shat Iskindria – and how we drove by it every morning and every night, and how the Alexandrian shore was not only a muse to Fairuz but a scene to many of the times we conversed to its tides.

I later realised that a love never dies, only fades into time. The way you have felt for someone changes your fingerprints; you shall never forget a touch that has gone through your skin.

I realised that finding you in an Om Kalthoum song, in a verse of Arabic poetry is inevitable because these things teach you how to love again, or merely how to relive an old love, reciting the lyrics of an old melody.

I realised that I might eventually let go, move on, lose grip, but you might never grow out of me, the way an old photo frame never leaves a mantlepiece.

[Photograph of Egyptian actor, Omar Al-Sharif, and Egyptian actress, Faten Hamama.]

mecca ramadan

I have been to Mecca, I said. I sip on my wine. I fidget.
I dance my fingertips on the rim of my glass as I watch something sink in the core of my drink. I have been to Mecca and I have found something. I dance my fingertips a bit more, I hear a ring, is it crystal?

I look at the eyes that have unraveled me. Eyes that look confused and empowered, but I have been to Mecca and my heart has felt something. I see it sink deeper. What scares them so much about my belief. What scares me? I bring my chair closer and swing it back.

I reminisce a nostalgia. The people were kind. The water was cold. The tiles were comforting. The carpet odoured gardens. The prayers sounded like a melody. I smile. I reminisce. I am taken to Mecca again. My fingers become a ballet dancer tiptoeing on a rope afraid to fall and embarrass herself while she fights to keep a show.

I see a swirl in the core. There is a pilgrimage in my glass. They bang their beers.

They say things with I’s and S’s and I’s and S’s. They say 9s and 11s and Bins and Ladins. They say bombs and attacks and terrors and terrorism. They say there’s a glass in your hand, you must be one of the ‘moderates’. They say, but I have been.

I have been to Mecca. I have seen Muslims. I have felt Muslim. I have felt Muslim in Mecca. I have felt Muslim in bars. I have felt Muslim in bed with her. I have felt Muslim everywhere. I have felt human everywhere. I am a human.

Editor’s Note: Do you want to read more poetry and prose from writers such as Mohamed at EndQuote? Sign up for the Middle East Collective newsletter to get more stories and articles straight to your inbox. Thanks for reading!

Mohamed Kassem

Mohamed Kassem

I'm an Alexandria-based Medic, who is also a very passionate writer. Being born and raised in Egypt, I have come to notice the many beautiful and chaotic mess that happens in the periphery of my visual field that can never remain quiet in the centers of my head, and hence writing has always been the sole way I can set my head to sleep. It is important to express yourself, especially in parts of the world where it is unusual for someone to look, talk, or act different, and hence writing, alongside my medical profession, has always and will always be a port of liberation for my readers and I.

3 Comments
  1. Absolutely brilliant! I love your work and I keep looking forward to your next masterpiece every single time.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Yara. We will feature the other co-founder’s work later this month. Please stay tuned! Also, if there’s any other modern writer or poet from the MENA region you are a fan of, please let us know.

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